>>> about the band
Members: Brenden Beu and Liz Godoy (pictured) // Live in Bed-Stuy. He’s originally from San Diego; she’s from Mexico // Formed the band in Southern California // Describe their sound as American folk rock, hip hop and avant-garde // Moved to Brooklyn in 2005 // Released second full-length album “shimmer”
Minutes before performing at Brooklyn The Party last week at Public Assembly, the fearsome sparrow gave me an insight into their creative process, whether their music has evolved since they first formed, and what’s next for them. Though reluctant to tell me what their latest single, “maryland,” is really about, they did divulge that, despite the name, it’s not about the state.
I read somewhere that you knocked on his door without being introduced. Did you just become friends and form a band?
Brenden: We started a band first and then soon after we became a couple too, and this has been the situation for years now (since 1999). We’ve been working on this for a long time. It hasn’t always been the same band, though. We’ve had a lot of different incarnations over the years. We’ve had a lot of bands with like five, six, seven people under different names.
When did you move to New York?
Brenden: We arrived here in August of 2005. I guess we were looking for a change from Southern California, a change in everything really — in architecture, in the energy, the environment around us, and also a place where there was more going on in all of the arts, in everything.
Why Brooklyn in particular?
Brenden: Well, I kind of feel like everything that we want to be a part of is here in Brooklyn. I guess one real nice thing that I always tell people I like about Brooklyn is that I live someplace that feels more like home. I’ve got all of the amenities of the rest of Manhattan at my disposal whenever I want it, but I always feel a sense of home when I come back to Brooklyn that I don’t necessarily feel in Manhattan. A lot of times, I’ll go through a week and never venture into Manhattan just because everything that I need to do is here in Brooklyn.
Liz: Personally I just didn’t know what to expect when we came to New York. We heard great things about Brooklyn. When we arrived in Bed-Stuy, I really felt at home because it just reminded me a lot of the Cuban energy, just because there’s so much Caribbean and Jamaican. It just has that feel. I just felt really comfortable there. It felt really familiar. Everybody was really friendly and really nice. it just really felt like a neighborhood where everybody got along well. I think that’s what’s really good about New York — People are really into neighborhoods.
Do you have a record label or aspirations to be signed?
Brenden: When the time is right, we would really like to work with a label. We’re always keeping our eyes open for someone to work with. We’re waiting for a label to take interest in us that wants to help us get where we want to go. The last thing we want is to sign with a label that isn’t interested in us, because then we won’t have a good working relationship.
How did you come up with your name?
Brenden: It was originally the name of a record company I was trying to start to use to release our own stuff. As for what it means, it means whatever you want it to, I suppose. I’ve always thought of it as an imagery kind of thing more than anything else. I came to realize that trying to be a record label and trying to be a musician was too many things to do, so eventually we kind of gave up on the record company idea. We decided to keep the name for ourselves.
Liz: We’ve been the fearsome sparrow since 2002.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
Brenden: I think our strongest influence is in the way we write, probably a lot of Neil Young and similar folk-rock stuff like that, and sort of old school country, and then the experimental hip hop. We always kind of think what we’re doing is a fusion of those two very disparate styles. We don’t really see genre or style as something that’s a singular defining thing, so we always try to blend things that are very opposite, that are both things that we really love, that we’re very influenced by.
Tell me about “maryland.” What’s the concept behind the song and the video?
Brenden: Well, Liz wrote it. She wrote the beginning, the melody and the lyrics to it. When she came up with it, she sort of sang all the ideas in her head into a little tape recorder for me. What she had put together was basically an old school swing band kind of song, almost like a New Orleans swing kind of song. It was impractical, so I started writing all the music around what she had given me, and I wrote the guitar and programmed the drums. At first she was kind of freaked out by what I had done, because it was nothing like what she had in her head. We actually had to have conversations over the song. Sometimes we write and we play the instruments together, and it’s immediately perfect. Other songs we actually had to sit down and talk about it, and figure out what we were thinking.
Liz: And if you’re interested, it is autobiographical. Not all of our songs are, but in a way it is. You can trace it back to 10 years ago. It’s personal. As a matter of fact, I asked him what he thought about coming up with the title, because it felt so personal I didn’t know what to do about it. He just mentioned it, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s perfect.”
Brenden: She didn’t tell me what the song was about. We don’t really tell each other what our songs are about because usually we kind of get it anyway. But she asked me to name the song and, should I say where it came from?
Liz: Well, I kind of like the idea of people figuring out or making out of it what they want to. But “maryland” is not about… Let’s just say it’s not about Maryland.
Brenden: It’s not about the state.
Liz: The guy (Austin Lynn Austin) that directed the video, he’s amazing. He kept asking me if it was autobiographical. He came up with the idea for the video on his own, and I think he pretty much hit the spot.
Brenden: The lyrics are fairly blunt, but usually we write very cryptically.
“Sometimes we write and we play the instruments together, and it’s immediately perfect. Other songs we actually had to sit down and talk about it, and figure out what we were thinking.”
How has your music evolved from when you first began playing together?
Brenden: The first band we were in was kind of like a carnival punk band. It was all like aggressive, extremely noisy analogue synthesizers.I think we’ve moved onto a more hip hop beat structure. If you take out the electronics, the songs are the same folk songs that we’ve been writing forever at their base. But I think over the years we’ve just gotten better at what we do. I think we’ve also come full circle in a way that when we started doing more electronics stuff, at first it was extremely mellow and low key, and I think that recently we’ve started coming back to a little more aggressiveness in our writing style. You know, keeping what we’ve learned over the years of bringing back something we were doing 10 years ago and bringing it back to that.
Liz: At this point we’re just trying to keep it as simple as possible and make it sound as together as possible. The album before this was very, very much electronic. There was a lot of stuff going on.
Brenden: There were a lot of layers in the last album that I spent about two years weighing down a single drum beat, layering one tiny sound over another for months at a time. I think we’re also going back to a more low fi approach to it, where we’ll just throw a loop on a drum machine and go with that while we’re playing live in our practice space so we can write more energetically and more immediately instead of having to spend weeks at a time figuring out minutiae.
Liz: It’s not like we’re not into it anymore. That was just the process, that style and we went for it and now we’re just trying to keep it simple, because we are two people after all. We don’t want to end up having five samples at the same time.
Brenden: We want to be performing most of what you’re hearing live.
What are some things you’re working on now?
Liz: As of right now, we’re just thinking about putting out a couple of EPs instead of trying to go full-length at the moment.
Brenden: We always want to record new stuff, but it sucks to a) have to save it for a full length, and b) feel like you have to commit all that time and energy to doing a full length. It sets our mind much more at ease if we can just walk into the studio and lay down four songs and then make some for an EP and just be done with it. We’re also gonna be doing some more touring for the near future. And you know, just kind of carve out a niche for ourselves.
(Photo by Aaron Cansler)